App Reviewed on: iPhone SE
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It's always exciting when a game from Tinytouchtales releases. Since 2012, Arnold Rauers has been using this moniker to collaborate with artists to put out one of the most consistently praise-worthy lineups of releases you can find anywhere, particularly on the App Store. This is all a wind up to deliver the probably not-so-surprising news that Card Crawl Adventure, the newest game from Rauers et al, is yet another great card-based roguelike that is well worth playing.
If you've played Tinytouchtales games before, the easiest way to describe Card Crawl Adventure is as a mashup of Card Crawl and Card Thief. If that doesn't mean anything to you, first: go play those games. Secondly, it essentially means that it's a card game where you build your own deck of cards based on a character class and mix that in with a dungeon deck to create a grid of face up cards you can trace a path through to activate abilities, defeat monsters, unlock treasure, and escape to your next challenge.
If that sounds really abstract and a little confusing, you'd be absoltely right to think so. Despite a reasonably coherent tutorial, Card Crawl Adventure's early-goings definitely feel like a trial by fire where you have to learn the precise nature of how a rich, interlocking set of ability types and systems interact the hard way.
Even if you find yourself getting stopped early in your quest repeatedly, it's hard to fight the allure of trying again. Some of this magnetism certainly comes from Card Crawl Adventure's art style. More than that, though, the overall presentation of dungeon-crawling is so whimsically framed such that your adventures show you playing this card-based game across the table from the bosses and barkeeps contained within the decks, which is then set against the backdrop of a cozy tavern full of unique patrons ready to take a turn at the game.
Once you start clearing dungeons and have seen most of the card variety there is in the game, Card Crawl Adventure continues to open up and offer new challenges thanks to an achievement system, "Weekly Crawl" leaderboards, a "Cursed Mode," and a unique scoring system that only celebrates how much gold you've managed to collect and not spend across your journey.
Card Crawl Adventure is listed on the App Store as free with in-app purchases, and you can enjoy almost all of the modes I've named in this review without spending any money just fine. It is only when you want to permanently unlock access to any additional character classes beyond the Scoundrel, participate in the weekly leaderboard challenge, or gain access to an equippable item that makes the game get easier as you fail runs that you are asked to pay any money. All of these items are offered a la carte, so you can spend as much or as little as you want to get the exact unlocks you want.
There is plenty to play with using just the Scoundrel on the free journey to let you know if you want to pay to unlock more variety. These purchases are well worth their asking prices if you want a deeper experience with Card Crawl Adventure, but it's nice that the initial download is free so you can test out if you can decode the somewhat arcane rule system ahead of buying in to the experience.
The bottom line
Card Crawl Adventure is easily the most ambitious release from Tinytouchtales. As a result, it does ask you for quite a bit of patience and perhaps even some trial-and-error before you can really start to wrap your head around it. Once it does, though, Card Crawl Adventure is immensely rewarding, particularly if you opt to unlock everything it has to offer.